Architecture Around the World
.................Poland - Table of Contents

Exterior and Chancel - Franciscan Church
Cracow (Krakow), Poland
Franciscan Church - Table of Contents

Church built:

13th century
15th century
17th century
19th century

Exterior style:


Current interior :


Interior style:

Art Nouveau

Interior designer:

Stanislaw Wyspianski

Also by Stanislaw Wyspianski:

Medical Society Building, Cracow

TEXT beneath illustrations

Click on illustrations for larger size -- and additional information

Gothic style church exterior

Step gable roof

Gothic style chancel

Gothic style altar


Art Nouveau style: Blessed Salomea stained glass window

Blessed Salomea stained glass window

Blessed Salomea stained glass window

Blessed Salomea

To the right of the altar: Jesus and St. Francis stained glass window


St. Francis

Stanislaw Wyspianski - self portrait

The Franciscan Order arrived in Cracow in 1237. A monastery was founded on this site, and in 1260 work began on a church. The origins of the Gothic Franciscan church go back to the 13th and 15th centuries, although rebuilding in the 17th and 19th centuries has considerably altered its appearance. The church, however, is renowned more for its interior decoration than for its architecture and attracts many visitors from all over the world.

A number of interesting features from different ages have been preserved,although the most notable are the Art Nouveau murals and stained glass windows by Stanislaw Wyspianski dating from around 1900.

The chancel and transept are decorated with a vertiginous scheme featuring entwined flowers, heraldic motifs and religious scenes.

The stained-glass windows are monumental compositions of great expressive power and represent one of the highest achievements of the Secessionist (Art Nouveau) stained-glass movement.

Every year on Good Friday a procession takes place at this church. On that day, the Brothers of the Arch confraternity of the Passion - decked out in black robes and with black habits covering their faces - prostrate themselves on the marbled floor of this church. The procession has continued unchanged for hundreds of years, and the Brothers still carry staffs that are adorned with rather splendid-looking skulls.

Wyspianski's interior

It was a disaster, somewhat incongruously, that gave rise to [the church's] greatest legacy. In 1850 a fire tore its way through the Old Town, causing major damage to a host of buildings. The Franciscan Church was amongst several that were gutted, and rebuilding had to begin from scratch. This was done in the Gothic style, to mirror the former design, but when this was completed there still remained the question of the interior.

The man who eventually rose to the challenge was Stanislaw Wyspianski, and he created one of the most original interiors of the age.

Wyspianski was already an established artist when he took up the Franciscan commission in 1897. He was twenty-eight years old, and he was also about to make his mark in the world of drama. However, although he had helped to restore a number of important churches, his original work for Lviv (in Polish Lwow) Cathedral had been rejected on account of its startling modernity. Thus it is something of a miracle that the Franciscans let Wyspianski loose on the entire interior (they did in fact reject some of his motifs for angels, which he wanted to paint as modern day street urchins).

As it was, Wyspianski designed not only the murals that cover the interior of the church, but also the magnificent stained glass windows. The result is extraordinary.

The entire interior is ablaze with bright murals - roses and poppies swirl about in blues, greens and yellows, yet all with a wonderfully controlled harmony, much as one finds on looking through a kaleidoscope. The flowers reflect the Franciscan love of nature, yet there are also national motifs here, and you can find the splendid Polish eagle amongst the fray. During this time of partition, when Poland was divided amongst foreign powers, Wyspianski was a typically patriotic artist - he believed in art in the service of the nation, as is also reflected in his dramas.

Amongst the most striking features of the church are the stained glass windows. Bold and visionary, they are a world away from the staid traditions of the medieval era. Most famous is the huge Let it Be, which stands above the Western entrance. It shows God emerging from the cosmos in the act of creation.

Equally impressive are the series of windows behind the altar-piece, particularly that of the Blessed Salomea (d.1268), who was the wife of the church's founder, Duke Boleslas the Chaste. Like her great nephew, Ladislas the Short, she also had connections with the enchanting Ojcow valley. She finished her days there at Grodzisko, in a convent of her own founding - hence Wyspianski's depiction of her as a Mother Superior. She was canonized in 1673.

To the right of the altarpiece is another impressive window, here portraying St. Francis, the patron saint of the church.

- Krakow "The Franciscan Church"

Photos and their arrangement 2008 Chuck LaChiusa
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